We spoke mostly in song lyrics and movie quotes. On New Year’s Eve he drunkenly recited the first soliloquy from Hamlet to me, (He was always drunk. He told me “The day I miss work because I’m hungover is the day I’m an alcoholic.” It didn’t occur to me until later that only an alcoholic would need to quantify that.) We sat in the dining room, on the floor under the window and I told him I hated him because he made me feel the way he did. His hair was that shade of brown where you knew he was a redhead as a kid and the skin on his eyelids was so thin that it looked like he was wearing purple eyeliner. He had grown a mustache and goatee and styled them so that he looked like Cervantes. He would rewrite the poem printed in the newspaper each day and make it better. We sat side by side, conspicuously not touching, and would do the crossword puzzle in ink, the only contact was our hands touching anytime one of figured out an answer and took the pen form the other. One time I filled out the answer Dido, meaning the singer and he told me the story of Dido from the Aeneid. We would play Scrabble and I would give us cute names on the scorecard. Hugh and Sylvia. Margot and Ritchie. Hem and Hadley. I’d use my Qs on words like squib to impress him. We talked about the bookstore we would open one day, somewhere in Maine, because he preferred real winters. I wanted to call it Tomes, but he named it The Dog-Eared Page. The staff would be us and a little old man named Henry, who would ride his bike to work and bring his beagle and a thermos full of soup. The top floor would be reserved for the books we wrote. (I secretly included in my fantasy the house across the street we’d live in, complete with the bottles of vodka he would hide in the towels.) For Christmas, I got him a scarf and signed the card “From Henry.” One day he played me the CD he made of thirteen different versions of Besame Mucho. We had terrible sex, twice, both of us too drunk to enjoy it or put much effort into it. The second time I slept in his bed, tucked into the crack between the bed and the wall, scared of accidentally touching him. In the morning, I couldn’t find my socks and I didn’t have enough money to buy myself coffee on the way home. I had just enough time to take a shower and notice the rash his bed had given me on my legs, before going in to work, where we both pretended nothing had happened because it was better that way.
Black jeans and slim hips and hair that made me think of licorice sticks. I read him my poems and he pretended to understand them, even though I could tell he really didn’t. He would play songs for me, mix tapes on actual cassettes, flipping them over when one side had finished. He taught me how to ride a bike, patient and never giving up until I finally got it, pedaling down the street, thrilled and proud. He was the one who introduced me to Valley Girl, watching it in his darkened living room, both of us under the same blanket, but too nervous to touch. Eventually I put my toes on top of his toes and we were content to sit like that. We would go for walks and I would try to say wise-sounding things about the moon and he would tell me about how when he was older he would live in a city, bigger and brighter than the one we were in. He imagined the apartment he would live in and I would try not to notice that in that imaginary space there was no room for me. He was equally sweet to his dog as he was to his younger sister, always helping them whenever he could. One time we bought Fruit Loops and plastic bowls and spoons and sat in his car and ate cereal while it rained outside around us and I thought that was the most romantic thing two people could ever do. We would talk on the phone, sometimes for hours, but I honestly can’t remember what we would talk about. I would always be surprised, though, to see that two hours had passed, when it felt like barely twenty minutes had gone by. He smelled good and was nice to everyone and I thought he was smarter than me, but years later I realized this wasn’t so. I was just too enamored to think of him as any way other than perfect.